This game took place on June 30, 1970. It is being recapped today as part of Camden Chat’s retro recap series while MLB is on hold due to coronavirus.
This is the story of two of the best players in Orioles history.
Both are members of the Orioles Hall of Fame. By Baseball Reference WAR, they rank sixth and seventh all-time among O’s position players, with each playing an integral role for winning Birds ballclubs for years.
One was a beefy, slugging first baseman/outfielder known for his prodigious pop (and nowadays, his eponymous barbecue stand). The other was a slick-fielding middle infielder and one of the most underrated players of his or any era, amassing 36.0 WAR in just five full seasons in Baltimore.
As you may have surmised, the first player is Boog Powell. The second is Bobby Grich. And while the two were at very different stages of their careers, each had a game to remember on this June evening at Memorial Stadium.
Let’s start with Grich. You won’t see his name come up very often during this 1970 retro recap series, because he was a 21-year-old rookie who played only 30 games and batted a meager .211 with a .563 OPS. He followed with just seven big league games the next year, and it wasn’t until 1972 that he became an Orioles regular.
Grich went on to enjoy a stellar 17-year career, split between the Orioles and Angels, that included six All-Star selections, four Gold Gloves, and scores of down-ballot MVP votes. You could make a strong case that he belongs in Cooperstown; by rWAR, his 71.1 mark is among the top 100 position players in MLB history, just two decimal points worse than Derek Jeter (and better than gobs of other Hall of Fame inductees). Yet while Jeter was a single vote shy of unanimous election, Grich fell off the ballot after one year.
In any case, nobody knew on this night where Grich’s career would eventually take him. The former O’s first-round draft pick was making just his second major league start after taking an 0-for-3 in his debut the prior evening in Washington. And in the bottom of the first inning, against Indians righty Steve Dunning, Grich achieved a milestone, stroking a single to right for his first major league hit. He’d eventually have 1,832 more.
But let’s move on to the star of the show.
This was 1970, and this was Boog Powell’s year. The 28-year-old masher was squarely in the prime of his career, establishing himself as a middle-of-the-order menace that no AL pitcher wanted to face. He was coming off an incredible 1969 season in which he parked 37 homers, drove in 121, and posted a .942 OPS, finishing second to Harmon Killebrew in MVP voting.
How do you top that? Well, in Boog’s case, by adding 20 points of OPS to accompany 35 roundtrippers and 114 RBIs, anchoring the lineup of an eventual World Series champion, and — oh yes — taking home the MVP trophy for himself this time around.
The funny thing is that, one month into the season, nobody would’ve imagined Powell was on an MVP pace. After 16 games, his batting average was under the Mendoza Line and his OPS was .656. But his bat came alive in May and didn’t let up for months. Boog saved his best for this final day of June.
Powell gave the Orioles their first lead with a two-run homer off Dunning in the third inning. Two innings later, following a Don Buford leadoff homer, Boog struck again. He took Dunning deep to right once more, his second blast of the game and 20th of the year. It was his first — and as it would turn out, only — multi-home run game of the season, and the 18th of his career.
And that’s how two Orioles stalwarts both contributed to tonight’s —
“Ahem!” says the O’s starting pitcher, tapping his toe impatiently. “Two Orioles stalwarts?”
Ah, yes! My apologies, sir. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the whale of a game that Dave McNally spun on the mound.
McNally was in some ways the pitching version of Powell. Signed as an amateur free agent, he debuted during his age-19 season in 1962 (as Powell had done a season earlier). Like Boog, he was a strong contributor throughout the ‘60s but kicked his career into another gear at the end of the decade. McNally’s best performance came in 1968, when he went 22-10 with a 1.95 ERA and, remarkably, a WHIP below 1.00.
By 1970, the 27-year-old southpaw was well into his third of four straight years of 20 or more wins. On this night, McNally kept the Cleveland lineup firmly in check. Though the Indians tagged him for a first-inning run on a Chuck Hinton RBI single, McNally threw six goose eggs on the scoreboard after that.
McNally had only two strikeouts, but kept the defense busy. Buford, the left fielder, helped out by cutting down a runner at third base in the first inning, squashing a bigger rally. In the fourth, McNally’s battery mate Elrod Hendricks threw out a runner trying to advance to third to end the frame. McNally then pitched out of a bases loaded jam in the fifth and worked past a leadoff walk in the sixth.
A sac fly in the eighth accounted for Cleveland’s second and final run, but McNally was on his way to his fifth complete game of the year (of what would ultimately be 16). He saved the best for last. The ninth inning was his only perfect frame of the evening, with a strikeout and two grounders to short wrapping up a 4-2 O’s victory.
With that, the Orioles improved to 47-28, extending their AL East lead to three games over the losing Yankees as they entered July.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for June 30, 1970?
This poll is closed
Bobby Grich (first major league hit)
Dave McNally (complete game win)
Boog Powell (two home runs)